I had a really interesting time with this book. The first half I couldn’t really tell if I liked it that much. Lauren Groff is a beautiful writer (though every now and again her prose veers into the overwritten. Sometimes I could feel her crafting the sentence, writing and rewriting it, polishing it down until it was perfect, so much that it pulled me right out of the book), but I found I was having some of the same problems that I had with The Monsters of Templeton. The story is better crafted, and the characters are all really well drawn, but I just couldn’t get hooked in.
I don’t think it was entirely Groff’s fault. I’ve read a toonnnnn of literary books about men who are geniuses, or think they’re geniuses, and how complicated their relationships can be. I could build a house out of the “examinations of a whole life” literary books I’ve read (Larry’s Party by Carol Shields deserves a shout out here. I’ve liked a lot of them that I’ve read, but out of all them, that one has really stuck with me over the years). So, at this point in my life I’m slightly wary of them, and more than a little weary too.
Also, I did like Lotto, mostly, but he was just sooooo arrogant and self-centered. And Mathilde, for the first part of the book, seemed too perfect to be interesting. She was supportive and un-endingly kind. She got mad but she always forgave him, always came back to love and support him again. Their relationship, which was the crux of the whole first half of the book, just wasn’t enough to rest a novel on.
The back half of this book really saved it for me. It not only engaged me more than the first half did, but worked some sort of weird, good novelist sleight of hand that made the previous half seem better than it had while I was reading it. I won’t say what, but at around the mid-point of the novel there’s an event that shakes things up a bit, and precipitates a sudden shift in the perspective the story is told through. It goes back and shows you events through the eyes of Mathilde, a character much angrier, sharper, and more complex than I would’ve thought.
I’d had to push myself to the midway point of this novel, not exactly grinding through it, but not getting that “I can’t wait to get back into this” feeling you get when you’re really hooked by a book either. The second half I devoured, shoveling it into my brain in just a few sittings.
In the end I’d like to say that I loved it, but I’m not really sure that I did. I was okay with the first half, loved the second half, and think I liked it overall. I’d say for those of you out there that like character studies, deep dives into tangled and complicated relationships, you should give this one a read. Just remember, if you’re not feeling it, try not to give up on it too quickly. You’ll be happy you pushed through.
That’s all for today 🙂